When husbands hate their wives

“The problem is…my brother-in-law didn’t [come] out of nowhere and become a murderer. These people are cultivated, they’re raised by families, they’re raised by friends, they’re raised by churches, they’re raised by their educational institutions, and they are chronic bullies from a very young age. I knew him, my friends knew him, my family knew him, and all along the signs were there, and they start small, and they turn big, and this is what it comes down to.” — Aleksandr Katane, brother of Lyuba Savenok who was murdered this past week by an abusive husband

To donate to Lyuba’s children, go here.

My podcast episode addressing this tragic situation can be found here.

Questions about hugs

Note: This is a follow-up to my previous post: Hugs: giving versus taking

Where can I find someone who will teach me how to hug in a giving way? Apparently my technique is all wrong.

Even though Nick Vujicic was born without limbs, people say he gives the best hugs.


How is that possible? As one high schooler says, “Nick hugs with his heart.” Go and do likewise.

Then again, that might be your problem. (See the final question below.)

If I ask a friend for a hug, does that make me a hug-taker?

No. It probably just makes you a hug-receiver. With good friends, sometimes we may need a shoulder to cry on and other times we may be the one offering that shoulder. But if we are always, or even just usually, the needy one — without ever giving in turn — that’s not healthy.

There is another aspect to this as well. Even the neediest of hug-receivers may end up giving far more than they realize. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found myself blessed and comforted by the very person I’m trying to comfort. If nothing else, you can receive the hug with gratitude, and your hug in return can express that.

Once again, it’s a heart issue and the difference between giving and taking can seem subtle. Consider asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the hidden places and motives of your heart — that’s usually far better than endless introspection. If you purpose to become the sort of person who gives graciously to others, you probably will. At least that’s my hope for myself!

Can’t I just hug without all this analysis and soul-searching? 

Of course. Hug away. Just make sure your hugs are welcome and not an intrusion or imposition. Try to think of the other person when you hug, and don’t be self-centered or use their body for personal gratification.

What if I’m the “high desire for non-sexual physical affection” spouse in a marriage with a husband who: a) only “hugs” me during sex; b) refuses to give or receive hugs except as foreplay; or c) is a hug-taker on the level of Creepy Hugger Guy?

First, a disclaimer lest the “Not All Guys!” police manage to catch wind of this post and denounce me as a female chauvinist pig: I know that there are probably husbands with a higher desire for hugs and non-sexual physical touch than their wives. However, what I’ve heard/read tends to confirm the stereotype. Before you say, “Well, that’s because you’re a woman and so guys don’t tell you these things”, let me offer this: back in my single days, I worked with a lot of married men. Some asked me for “the female perspective” on their marriage issues. Others trotted out the “my wife doesn’t understand me” line. So I heard plenty from husbands who thought their wives were unreasonable for wanting physical affection outside of sex, but not a word from any husband longing to give or receive more hugs. (By the way: I also learned the best way to shut down a guy claiming “my wife doesn’t understand me” is to say excitedly, “Your wife sounds just like me!” Only once did I have to ramp it up a notch and say I’d love to meet her.)

After that long disclaimer, back to the question. Maybe you’ve tried everything you can think of, even marriage counseling, and your husband, an otherwise fairly good guy, can’t or won’t change. Maybe physical touch isn’t his love language. Maybe, when he was growing up, his parents taught him that hugs were wrong and bad. Maybe he was abused. Maybe he’s simply not wired for intimacy. Maybe he has other reasons for not appreciating hugs. Maybe he thinks there is nothing wrong with being Creepy Hugger Husband and you can’t convince him that selfish or forced hugs and gropings aren’t working for you. Maybe he actually hates hugs unless sex is involved. Maybe he just doesn’t have very much to give. The bottom line is that some guys will never “get it”, and will never change, even if they wish they could.

You can’t change anyone but yourself. Sad and frustrating, but true. Once you face reality, you have two choices:

  1. Dump the dude and find a guy who gives good hugs from the heart.
  2. Learn how to live with the dude you’ve got.

There’s a theory about the disparity in male versus female desire/need for physical affection. Some say it is God’s design; after all, we are the ones who breastfeed and nurture babies and children. However, that feature seems more like a bug if you don’t have babies to cuddle, and it does nothing to protect you from the hug-taker.

What to do? I’m not a marriage counselor by any stretch of the imagination, and probably not the best source of marriage advice, but this is my 2 cents worth, which might not be worth even that:

If you are married to a hug-taker, recognize that you might become increasingly reluctant to give him hugs, since you feel depleted already. Unfortunately, this may turn things into a vicious cycle. It’s hard to give, give, give when there is no mutuality, and when your gift is turned into another opportunity for someone to take from you. Unless you have experienced this dynamic for any length of time, what I’ve written here may sound whiny and overly sensitive. What’s the big deal? It’s only a hug! But if you are a high-desire-for-real-hugs spouse married to a hug-taker, you know exactly how difficult the struggle can be. I have no idea what to tell you, other than perhaps you might consider doing some boundary work to protect your heart.

Recognize that your husband will never meet all your needs. No one can. Find people who will give and receive good hugs. Years ago, I met an older woman who was on a personal crusade to make sure the people in her life got three hugs a day. She even had cute little cards printed up. I loved it! I could count on at least two good hugs every time I saw her. Cultivate a hugging culture among your friends and in your social group. It can really fill that void, and meet your need for physical touch. 

Cuddle babies. Pet cute little puppies. But don’t stop there. Hand out hugs to teenagers. Hug lonely widows. In other words, give hugs to those who will appreciate them. You never know the difference you might make in the lives of people who sometimes go days, weeks, even months, without a single giving hug. Meet your need for hugs by meeting the same need in others. (For the sake of your marriage, it’s wisest to limit or avoid hugs with warm, attractive, emotionally available men.)

What if my wife claims I’m a hug-taker? Or what if I am the low-desire-for-hugs spouse? Or what if even the briefest hug fills me with an uncontrollable desire to have sex immediately, so I avoid any except as foreplay? Or what if I think hugs are wrong or stupid? Or what if I happen to like grabbing and groping my wife and think she needs to get over herself? Or what if I just don’t feel like hugging my wife unless there is something in it for me, like sex or at least getting to feel her up?

I don’t know. Maybe you should ask your wife and be willing to listen, really listen, without defensiveness. Then again, she may be way past the talking stage on this one, especially if lack of physical affection has been an ongoing issue in your marriage. You might try reading articles addressing low sexual desire in marriage and adapting the advice for hugs rather than sex (e.g., how to be an eager and willing hug partner even if you are never in the mood to hug). Personal therapy might help you figure yourself out. At the very least, try getting lots of prayer…for you and your wife.

Hugs: giving versus taking

“That was a good hug, a really good hug,” said my sort-of-wannabe-boyfriend at the time. He wasn’t talking about a hug between us, but one he had observed another man give me. He was right: it was a good hug, so good that I remember it some 35 years later. It is remarkable how such a simple physical act, given at the right moment and with the right spirit, can so profoundly affect us. Some hugs can offer us more hope, strength, encouragement, and comfort than even the most carefully crafted words.

Hugs are, if you think about it, kind of weird. You stand close to someone and put an arm or more around each other. Sometimes it’s a rather forgettable, almost meaningless gesture. Other times it’s awkward, uncomfortable, or perhaps even unwanted. But, in the best of cases, it’s a precious gift. I was reminded of this when listening to a podcast by a Christian counselor named Karolyn Merriman. I can’t recall which particular episode it was, or the context of her remarks, but she mentioned a time when her husband told her that she was “taking” hugs rather than “giving” them, and how this prompted her to do some prayerful self-examination.

Her personal account raised questions that I’ve since been pondering. Do I hug others only when I am desperate to be hugged, out of my own neediness or — even worse — out of selfishness? Why are some hugs so special, so memorable, even if the person hugging me wasn’t a close friend or loved one? Why are other hugs awkward and off-putting, even offensive?

The whole idea of giving, versus taking, hugs was something I don’t recall ever considering, but it began making perfect sense of my experiences of being hugged. But how do you tell the difference between giving and taking? A giving hug takes into consideration how the other person might feel while being hugged. Is the hug even wanted? Yes, there are clumsy huggers and hug mishaps, but there is a difference between wrapping yourself around someone in a welcome embrace — as opposed to grabbing and yanking them in close to you. It’s not just the “technique”, but the heart attitude that it seems to convey. One communicates, “I want to draw close to you and use my body to comfort you or express my feelings for you”, while the other says, “I want to tug you, even roughly if necessary, towards me because I want the feeling of your body as close to mine as possible…and I don’t really care about your personal feelings or boundaries.” It was easier to begin conducting my hug analysis and categorization with some extreme examples. While I’m not a mind reader and shouldn’t assume people’s attitudes or motives, actions do have a way of speaking louder than words.

The creepy hugger at church. He’s still memorable 35 years later, but in a bad way.  Creepy Hugger Dude would sieze any opportunity in our overly huggy church to grab girls and yank them into a tight full frontal squeeze, ignoring our protests or attempts to wriggle free. I quickly learned, if I couldn’t flee in time, to place both my hands in front of my chest and shove him away. Sometimes it took several attempts.

Supposedly he was “harmless”…just a clueless, lonely jerk, I mean “nice guy”. None of the leaders or other guys in the group would call him out for his behavior, instead preferring to tell the women that we were overreacting to a “sweet” guy who was just being “cute and funny”. He was at best an extreme example of someone who takes hugs, even over the other person’s objections. (Despite my wimpiness back then, I once got up the nerve to insist, “Please don’t hug me”, but he laughed it off and grabbed me anyway. I should have slapped him.) At worst…well, you can draw your own conclusions.

Not everyone who takes hugs is that obvious or that creepy. However, some boyfriends and husbands approach hugging as being primarily about how a hug feels to them, or as serving little or no purpose other than an initial step in foreplay. While their hugs may not make their significant other feel accosted, they are far more about having the woman’s body glommed up close than about giving of himself to her. These hugs communicate “I want to feel your body next to mine” rather than “Let me give you my physical comfort, love and affection”. They are far more an expression of physical desire, even of lust, than of love and true intimacy. Such hugs are selfish and self-centered, perhaps mildly so, extremely so, or somewhere in between. It’s merely a matter of degree. An obvious sign of a taking hug from a husband is if it includes grabbing or groping (unless the wife likes being grabbed and groped mid-hug). That doesn’t mean hugs can’t involve caresses which become increasingly sexual. However, for most women I know, gropes are a different story and feel like unwelcome intrusions, especially during a hug; such actions certainly aren’t giving or loving.

On the other end of the hugging spectrum is…

World’s best hugger. She was proclaimed that, year after year, by those of us at a retreat for sexual trauma survivors. Let that sink in for a minute. That means her hugs felt safe. They were welcome. They came from deep within this amazing, compassionate woman. She expected nothing in return. Her hugs were a gift, a healing embrace, a warm comfort, a haven in the storm, true solace in the dark. She put her heart and her soul into those hugs, and they embodied love. They were the epitome of giving.

She told me that she learned from a man whose hug I’ve written about before:

Then, with my permission, he hugged me oh so carefully, and he leaned his head down towards mine and whispered in my ear in a choked voice, “I am so sorry. I am so sorry they did this to you. I am so sorry.” And this big strong man, this man who didn’t really know me but who chose to identify with my pain and anguish and devastation — he wept for me. I felt his tears fall on my shoulder, like the most precious, healing gift. He knew. He understood. And he wept.

Hugs don’t have to involve weeping. But the best ones, the truly good hugs — the ones we remember with gratitude years and multiple decades later — are the ones that go beyond merely not taking. It’s not just that there are no strings attached and no ulterior motives in the best of hugs. They go far beyond even giving the physical warmth of a close embrace; they give out of the depth of a person’s very being.

Not every hug has that much meaning and emotion behind it, or requires that much of us. We might be giving comfort or encouragement, expressing a joyful greeting, welcoming someone, saying goodbye, or simply being affectionate. However, if we want to be hug-givers rather than hug-takers we should, at the very least, give of ourselves in a way that is appropriate to the situation and circumstances. The hug should be more about the huggee than the hugger. Expecting nothing in return might make some hugs seem to be a more one-sided communication on our part…but that’s the way giving often is.

The hug I mentioned at the beginning of this post caught me by surprise. I knew the hugger mostly as the boyfriend of a friend, as someone who had taken on a bit of a protective older cousin/uncle type role in my life. He was saying goodbye before moving across the country and, right before the hug, he looked me in the eyes and said simply, “Stay safe.” But behind those words were, as we both knew, paragraphs and pages of meaning. The hug spoke volumes, crammed all those paragraphs and pages of words, all the advice he had ever given me, and every word of encouragement, into one embrace. I felt it. The wannabe boyfriend-ish guy could see it. I hope my hug in return spoke volumes as well.

It was a good hug…a gift I still carry in my heart.

Addendum: Here’s a good article about hugs and physical touch: Public Displays of Christian Affection. This article resonated with me because I can remember different seasons of my life when I felt almost desperately starved for affectionate, safe touch, for hugs that gave rather than attempted to take. But, as already mentioned, I’ve also been blessed with people in my life who have given me amazingly wonderful hugs that were more healing and comforting than I could even begin to describe.

Update: edited to rearrange sentences in a hopefully more logical and coherent order.

Why it’s daft to marry a convicted serial pedophile | Marriage Monday

In following the recent controversy regarding Douglas Wilson (that he still sees nothing wrong with performing the wedding of a convicted serial pedophile) it’s easy to think certain people have lost all common sense. Surely no sensible church elder would respond to a young woman in search of “Mr. Right” with, “I know just the guy! Lucky for you, he got off easy for molesting children and didn’t have to serve out his life sentence, so he’s available — which obviously makes him Mr. Right!” Surely no mature, sensible woman would agree to marry such a man after their second date. Surely no sensible pastor would perform the wedding for such a marriage, especially if the serial pedophile openly declared his intentions to father children. Surely no sensible people would rise up in defense of pedophiles marrying: but doesn’t the poor pedophile deserve to be happy? Doesn’t he deserve the right to marry? After all, he said he was sorry for molesting toddlers and young children…and for his peeping tom shenanigans right after he got out of jail…and we should forgive and forget! What about grace? Give the poor guy a second chance!

We all know that sometimes starry-eyed young women who are madly in love don’t like to think of much beyond the excitement of planning the wedding — probably all the more so if they have fallen for the charms of a young predator well-practiced in manipulation and deception.  That is why it is essential that those with level heads urge the would-be bride to consider the serious and enormous consequences of marrying a sex offender. If nothing else, she needs to realize that not everyone may share her enthusiasm for having a convicted child molester in the family or around children — and she needs to know why. Too much is at stake to get caught up in the giddy excitements of a young couple “in love”. Heaven help us if we cannot depend on the pastors, elders, and older women of the church to advise wisdom and prudence.

So, for those lacking in common sense, and for those bewildered souls at a loss because they can’t find a verse in the Bible expressly forbidding pedophiles from marriage, would you please allow me to suggest a few reasons for caution before you rush off and marry a convicted serial pedophile or encourage your daughters to marry one?

1. His criminal past will never “go away”. He will be required to register as a sex offender and his information will appear online in easily accessible databases (Easily search for Steven Sitler here.) There will no doubt be conditions of his parole. There will be lifelong restrictions on his activities and interactions with children.

2. Everyone — church members, neighbors, parents, children, his former victims, vigilantes — will be able to discover his status as a sex offender, along with all the information they need to find him, should they search for him by name or search for sex offenders in his vicinity. (Search by zip code or location here.)

You might argue that #1 and #2 do not trouble you in the slightest, and that you have no qualms being forever publicly identified as the wife of a convicted child molester — in fact, that and every thought of your beloved fills you with delight and joy because you are oh so very much in love!! If so, provided you make certain you will never be able to have children with this man, you can probably stop reading at this point. The rest of my cautions are in regards to having at least one child.

3. Your husband may never be allowed to be with your child unless he is under the direct observation of a court-appointed supervisor/chaperone. If so, this means you will never have a normal family life. You will someday have to explain to your child the odd, unrelenting, and draconian measures you have to take in order to ensure his father does not have access to him or her while you are sleeping, talking on the phone, using the bathroom, brushing your teeth, putting on make-up, doing household chores, changing clothes, or showering. You will have to explain why his father cannot take him to the bathroom at home or in public. You will have to explain why your child can never be alone with his or her own father, even for a minute…why your child will never be able to have a private one-on-one conversation with his own father…why there can never be a normal father-child relationship between the two of them. (Even more overwhelming than the many awkward explanations will be the unrelenting stress of living this out. It would be far easier to have your husband reside elsewhere and pay him visits without your child.)

Note: if you are the court-appointed chaperone or supervisor of your husband, you must give up the idea that your marriage can be either patriarchal, complementarian, or egalitarian in practice. You will be responsible to the court to make sure you and your husband implement the court’s decisions and instructions — or else another, more responsible person will have to be appointed to be present whenever your husband is around your child.  Your husband must not be allowed to get by with trying to pull the “father rule” or “wives submit” cards in these matters, or even the “but we didn’t mutually agree that I can’t spend time alone with my own child” card. You will be his supervisor. At times you will no doubt feel like his warden, jailor, or parole officer.

4. You will have to explain to your child why his father cannot volunteer for any activities that involve children or that might put him in contact with children.

5. You will have to explain to your child why his father cannot accompany him on father-child outings at church or school unless you or another chaperone is along and never lets him out of their sight. Even then, the church or school may not allow it.

6. You will have to explain the precautionary measures taken by you, your child’s school, your church, and others in order to supervise your child’s father and make sure he never has the opportunity to be alone with a child or vulnerable person.

7. You may have to explain the ongoing involvement of Child Protective Services in your child’s life.

8. You will have to explain why other parents will not allow their children in your home, or your husband in their homes. You may have to explain why your husband is not welcome at family gatherings (holidays, reunions, weddings, funerals) when children are present. 

9. You will probably have to explain, much earlier than you had hoped, what people mean by “child molester”, “pedophile”, “baby rapist”, “degenerate”, and “pervert” — and why they use these words to describe your child’s father. Your child’s sex education may include hearing from others — or reading on the Internet — the exact acts his father forced upon other children.

10. You will have to explain to your child why you thought a convicted serial pedophile would make a good husband and father. 

11. Worst case scenario #1: you may have to explain, if your child discloses sexual abuse by your husband and you believe your child, that you thought you were being vigilant every second…or that you thought you only let your guard down for a moment…or that you made a terrible mistake in trusting your husband. You will have to explain why you chose, knowingly, to put your own child at such dangerous risk by marrying this man in the first place — why your happiness was so much more important to you than any child’s safety and well-being. You will have to admit that there is nothing you can possibly do to undo the pain, damage and harm your foolishness and selfishness has caused to your innocent child. If you have any shred of decency left, you will have to repent, and beg your child’s forgiveness — and give him the freedom to withhold it from you. You will have to explain what you will do from then on to seek justice, healing, and safety for your child. You will have to face the very real possibility that you may lose him or her. You will have to live with the knowledge that your decision to father a child with a convicted serial pedophile  has caused your child irreparable harm…but your the pain of your regret is a drop in the bucket to the devastating pain and struggle your child has to live with.

12. Worst case scenario #2: Your husband sexually abuses your child but intimidates, manipulates or threatens him or her into silence. You cannot understand that your child is reacting to trauma, so you cannot understand what might be his troubled behavior, his sullen attitude, his personality changes, his fears and anxieties, his anger or depression. You may never figure out why he “rebels” or “acts weird”. Perhaps he or she engages in self-harm, withdraws from other people, and spends much of his time escaping into over-activity or mindless entertainment. Perhaps he or she has unexplained injuries and illnesses, seems accident-prone, wets the bed, has recurrent nightmares, is jittery and jumpy, has meltdowns, does poorly at school, is clingy, stutters, acts out, runs away, shoplifts, engages in promiscuous sex and risky behavior, ends up on drugs or in jail. Perhaps he or she even attempts suicide. You will either not be able to figure out what is wrong or will be reluctamt to face the truth. You will prefer to think your son or daughter is the problem, not that he or she is falling apart because of the sexual trauma your husband — the man you chose to father your child — inflicted. Should he or she in desperation try to tell you the truth — or you begin to suspect it on your own — the convicted serial pedophile you married will be quick to point out how foolish it would be to take the word of such a troubled, immature, and sinful child over that of your godly, upright, repentant husband. He will probably be convincing because serial pedophiles are master manipulaters and deceivers of adults. That’s how they gain access to the children they prey upon — they groom adults to trust and believe them. That’s how your husband married you.

One more reason to avoid marrying a convicted serial pedophile? To prove that you are not the foolish Bible-thumping ignoramus some accuse us of being — to prove you are not the sort of person who protects children in the womb only to hand them over, once they are born, to be raised by known child molesters.

Nature, nurture, or both: what makes me a “real woman”?

I was born a girl. And except for some long ago summer days at the age of 11, when my too-short haircut and my play clothes of blue jean cut offs and a white t-shirt made me appear confusingly gender-ambiguous, I have always presented as female.

As a teenager and fledgling woman, I often felt inadequate. Even now, as a supposedly fully matured woman, I sometimes struggle. I’ve never been especially girly. I lack many of the talents, skills, and interests associated with femininity in our culture. According to what many teach regarding “Biblical womanhood”, I fail miserably. I’m not domestic enough. I’m not sweet enough, soft-spoken enough, gentle enough, or submissive enough. Instead of finding fulfillment among the pots and pans, I’d rather be teaching kids to hit and kick each other in the dojo. Instead of urging girls, “Stay sweet”, I’m more often heard urging them to “Be fierce!” Instead of going into raptures of delight over cleaning products, make-up, cute shoes, or whatever it is we women are supposed to get all giddy with excitement over, I’m far more likely to get excited about my favorite hike, a good cup of coffee, some techno-toy, or sensible shoes. (Although I do own a few cute pairs for when I want to clean up, put on a dress, and look semi-presentable.)

I didn’t fit in as a girl. I often don’t fit in now.

But I’m a real woman.

Only I’m not. Because, after all, “real women have curves”, and I’ve always been sorely lacking in the curves department…well, except for the more recent “curves” of added fat in all the wrong places.

Then again, there’s my trump card. The fact that I’ve had six kids should grant me entry without question into the ranks of “real women”.

Except that men can supposedly give birth. Or at least women who decide to have partial sex reassignment surgery so that they can live as men, claim they are men, but still get pregnant and have babies. So now, someone recently informed me rather heatedly, giving birth is not just a “woman thing”. Men can do it too. So there.

So what makes me a woman?

I think genetics and biology are not meaningless. Yes, I know that “Biology is not destiny!” was a rallying cry in the 1960’s. I don’t believe that our biology, as women, should be viewed as a limitation, prison or trap, any more than the same should be true for a man. I would never tell any man that he is good for little else besides sex and fathering babies, and therefore he should not trouble his handsome little head over important things, nor should he do anything dangerous, given how delicate and vulnerable his reproductive organs are. The truth is that, as both men and women, humans are far more than our reproductive systems. But those very systems are an important part of us, whether they function properly or not, whether we delight in them or not, whether they cause us grief or pleasure.

I was born a girl. My parents raised me as a girl who would grow up to be a woman. I went to school and took part in communities where I was treated as were girls in my day and time — for good and for bad. My experiences shaped me.

Even the common, shared experiences of childhood were not exactly the same for me as for my brothers. For instance, when teachers would say, “Boys will be boys!” to a classroom full of children, it meant something entirely different for us girls than it did for the boys. We were being told we were being overly-sensitive tattle-tales and needed to stop; the boys were being given permission to go right on doing whatever it was that had upset us so much. Sometimes it felt like we were being raised in parallel universes.

Puberty was, to vastly understate the obvious, very different for me than for my brothers.

I could go on and on… Nature and nurture, my biology and my life experiences, have molded me, shaped me, formed me, given me identity. I am a woman. I am more than a collection of body parts, more than a shape, more than my appearance, more than my sexuality, more than my talents or lack thereof, more than a social construct.

It cost me to become a woman. I have literally bled. The transition from girlhood to womanhood was not easy for me, not physically, not emotionally, not spiritually, not mentally. There were times when I feared I would not arrive, whole and happy, on the other side. Not every girl’s adolescence is so tortured or troubled, nor do boys sail into manhood without a worry or problem. However, the worst pains of my teen years were suffered because I was a girl.

There was not one experience that made me a woman. It was not my first menses, nor did a sex act “turn me into a woman”. It wasn’t even when I had my first baby. Being a woman is the sum total of my mind, body, memories, and experiences. I’ve spent my entire life being female, and it’s the only life I know.

At the same time that I love being a woman — it has been the source of some of my deepest joys — I can also enjoy, perhaps a little too much, ignoring or overturning what I regard as silly cultural stereotypes and expectations. I may not measure up to your idea of a “real woman”, but I’ve put in the time and I’ve definitely earned the stripes, even if I don’t look as decorative or act as demurely/sexily as you think I should.

Putting on a dress and high heels doesn’t make me more of a woman. Neither does cooking a delicious meal, or keeping silent in a church meeting, or crying at sappy movies. I don’t become less of a woman when I’m in my sweat-soaked gi, pounding the heavy bag with all I’ve got. Adding or subtracting body parts would not make me any more or less a woman than I already am. Womanhood is not something you wear, something you put on and off, some set of actions you do or don’t do. Womanhood is who you are, all of it.

I was born a girl, with female chromosomes and body parts. I grew up as a girl. I was taught how to be a girl…and how not to be a girl. I’ve lived as a woman all my adult life. It is the sum total of my existence and the very essence — inside and out — of who I am. You don’t get much more real than that.

I refuse to trivialize womanhood, refuse to reduce it down to outward appearance, refuse to suggest that it is a commodity than can be bought or sold, refuse to believe that surgery can make or undo it. I’ve had friends and loved ones who have lost breasts, uterus, and ovaries to cancer — but they were still very much women, no matter what our culture might say.

Womanhood is worth celebrating. Worth honoring. Worth valuing. Worth respecting.

Even if I just started laughing over my sudden urge to start belting out, “I am woman, hear me roar!”